6 simple and zero-waste swaps for your bathroom

Before I jump into the article, I want to be sure to address the matter of affordability. After all, “affordable” is a very loaded term and it means vastly different things to different people. 

Yes, truly sustainable products do cost more than their generic alternatives. And unfortunately, this does negatively impact their accessibility. The promising news is that as more people already able to afford these products make the switch, over time, costs will decrease. It’s for sure not an immediate solution, but it does offer some hope for greater access down the road. 

Where I am at in life, it is financially feasible for me to make sustainability a priority. But that doesn’t mean there wasn’t some initial sticker shock as I started exploring these zero-waste swaps. Even if you’re able to make sustainable switches, letting go of comfortable and convenient habits is hard. So to help, here’s the logic I used to see these products not just as purchases, but as investments in a more sustainable future. 

Higher quality ingredients – Chemical-free and biodegradable products are naturally derived and therefore better for your body and the earth 

Longevity – Many sustainable products are concentrated or purer, requiring less volume per use 

Livable wages & working conditions – More money is cycled back to the people who grow and produce these products, so they can achieve a higher quality of life 

If you’ve been hoping to switch over to a more sustainable or plastic-free bathroom routine but haven’t known where to start, this guide will help you identify which products can work for your lifestyle and budget. For every product, I’ve broken down the costs and ease of switch to help make your sustainable transition a smooth one.  

1. Zero Waste Lip Balm | Ease of switch: 9/10

Currently, I’m using a nice mint stick from Twinkle Apothecary, a woman-founded, small business based in Oklahoma. The large stick, if I recall correctly, was $12 and has lasted me more than a year. 

Mint lip balm in zero-waste, compostable packaging

The only challenge I encountered when switching to a plastic-free lip balm was adjusting to the more natural formula. As a devout Burts user, I found my lips more dry than usual at the start, but they’ve since adapted and feel very healthy. 

Buy it here: 

Twinkle Apothecary $6 

Splashe $7.99  

Zero Waste Store $12.99 

Boston General Store $14.00 

2. Stainless Steel Razor | Ease of Switch 6/10 

If you’re willing to break from your plastic pal, stainless steel razors make for a great zero-waste swap. Unlike safety razors you find at drug stores or from popular brands like Billie, the steel versions feature two blades that can be replaced an infinite number of times. 

My favorite Albatross, zero-waste razor

I purchased my three-piece Albatross razor from Package Free a year ago, and although we had a pretty rocky start, we’re now very well acquainted. What do I mean by ‘rocky’? Well, bloody. I should preface this with the fact that I’ve never been a very adept shaver. Add to that applying way too much pressure to this new razor and you have yourself a perfect little storm. 

During my initial shaves with the Albatross, I used the razor just like my cheap plastic ones. Big mistake. Because the body of the Albatross razor is heftier, applying any additional pressure pushes the blade directly into your skin. Ouch! 

But before you write this method off completely—hold on. We’re not talking ER type cuts, just little nicks, easily fixed with a bandaid. A slow learner, it’s taken me almost a year to shave cut-free but now that I have a handle on it, I truly love this product and will NEVER go back. I use it on my legs, armpits, lil mustache, and uh yah, down yonder too. I only need to change the blade every 4-6 months and each replacement costs just cents. 

Another benefit of this particular brand is Albatross’ free blade recycling program that lets you mail in used razors to be repurposed rather than trashed in landfill. But if you aren’t able to buy Albatross’ razor and use their recycling program, I advise you collect your old razors in a pill container or Altoids box, something hard and difficult to puncture. When the container is full, put the entire thing in the trash. Never in recycling and never uncovered; the tiny pieces can damage disposal machinery and pose risk to workers. Obviously, this version isn’t completely waste-free, but you are still eliminating new plastics from being produced and added to the environment.

Buy it here

Package Free – $25 

Blade Refills – $.25 each

3. Bar soap | Ease of Switch 9/10 

Bar soaps are a cheap and easy way to cut back on plastic at the sink and in your shower. These zero-waste swaps are available in an incredible number of scents, packaging options, and sizes so most people won’t have trouble finding a good fit. If you can find and afford it, opt for a soap that is package-free, chemical-free, and biodegradable.

Natural bar soap is biodegrable and can be purchased completely pastic-free

Something you might also want when making the switch to bar soap is a self-straining holder. These little babies can be helpful in preserving the life of your soap and preventing the bar from becoming soggy. I like this one from the Zero Waste Store, but you can also make your own using rubber bands and a jar top

Dr. Bronners – $4.69 (I can often find this brand discounted at T.J.Maxx)

Toms of Maine – $4.99 (Try your local grocery stores as well) 

4. Toothpaste tabs | Ease of Switch 8/10 

If you like breath mints, toothpaste tabs will be a synch. Unlike some of the homemade solutions I’ve tried, toothpaste tabs don’t cause me to dry heave over the bathroom sink. Which is great. While you definitely don’t get the same rush of freshness as you do with a chemical-heavy Crest or Colgate, the tabs still leave your teeth and mouth feeling clean. Oh, and my dentist approves, too! 

I personally use Bites, although after doing this cost analysis, I’ll probably switch to Georganics. Regardless, both brands’ are cruelty-free and don’t contain sulfates or parabens. If you’re not a fan of traditional mint, Bites also has flavors like Berry Blast (good for kids) and Lavender Lemon. 

I love these Bites plastic-free toothpaste tabs

As for cost, Bites charges about $.2 per tab while Georganics is half that. My Bites subscription is $30 for four month’s supply that automatically renews, so I never run out. Their refills come in compostable, plant-based plastic, making even that part of the process zero-waste. Georganics, on the other hand, is about $26 for the same amount of tabs and they do not offer a subscription option.  

Truthfully, there’s not a huge difference in price or quality between either of these tabs. During this pandemic, Bites is more convenient because I can’t access a lot of local stores. However, after this period is over, buying Georganics makes more sense because it’s slightly cheaper, lets me support local business, and doesn’t require any added shipping. 

Buy it here 

Georganics tabs – $12.90 for 8 weeks 

Bites – $30 for four months  

5. Reusable Swabs | Ease of Switch 6/10 

I use ear swabs for makeup and, of course, a satisfying de-waxing. But daily use really adds up and these small items unfortunately often end up damaging waterways and oceans.

A zero-waste alternative to tradtional ear swabs

Fortunately, a very smart person invented a reusable & zero-waste swab. I own two different types; one for ears and one for makeup. Both are made out of a squishy, body-safe silicone and are easy to clean using just soap and water. They’re very comfortable and other than regular washing, don’t demand much of an adjustment. 

Earthsider – $12.95 (duo pack)   

LastSwab – $12 

6. Refillable Floss | Ease of Switch 10/10 

I hate flossing. What normal person doesn’t? But every time I go to the dentist, she reminds me it’s the only way to keep my own teeth. So I floss.

I started using refillable floss a few months ago and am very happy with this zero-waste swap. Before, I did try a low-waste floss wrapped in paper, but found it’s design totally non-durable and by the end of the pack, I was having to cut the floss with scissors. 

Low-waste charcoal floss by Georganics

Refillable floss, however, is just like regular floss but without the plastic waste. The container is made from glass and metal. And while normal floss is typically nylon, a type of plastic, most zero-waste floss is made from compostable 100% silk. The only exception I’ve found is Georganics charcoal floss, which contains some plastic in the form of polyester. Regardless of the brand you choose, always read the materials of your floss prior to buying to make sure you’re getting a wholly biodegradable option. 

As you may have guessed, refillable floss isn’t cheap. It averages about $7 upon initial purchase, plus $10 for two refills. I bought my current floss about four months ago, floss 3 times a week (don’t judge me), and still have a ways to go to finishing it. Out of all the products I’ve shared, refillable floss is arguably one of the most expensive and difficult to justify. But if you can afford it, you’ll be removing dangerously small and easy to swallow plastics from waterways and any animals in them. 

Buy it here

Public Goods – $2.50 

Boston General Store – $6.90 

Package Free – $11.99 

sustainability style: my 2020 glowup

I’ve been making the transition to a low-impact lifestyle for a little over a year now. I say “transition” because so much of this process is about me forming and settling into new habits, none of which happens overnight. It’s all a work in progress and no matter what, there always seems to be some room for improvement. 

Taking into account the past year’s downfalls and successes, here are six ways I’m reevaluating my lifestyle & consumer decisions to make an even greater impact in 2020: 

No more stockpiling

The daughter of a chronically overprepared woman, I was born into a world where there was always a reserve of household supplies. Lotion, toilet paper, the same shirts in black, white and red. There was never a shortage of anything—sometimes to a fault. 

As I got older and began to pick up my own buying habits, I kept up with stockpiling. From white blouses to the perfect mascara, I was obsessed with having more than enough of everything. Unfortunately, this too often meant loading up on something I’d just end up donating or throwing out because it was no longer cool, necessary, or had passed its expiration date. Wasted money. Wasted space. Wasted resources. 

I still love being prepared—I keep a lip balm in every one of my bags for christ’s sake. But this year, I’m trying not to cross the line into over-preparation…toilet paper being the only exception. 

No fast fashion. No exceptions.  

I’m normally really good at dodging unethical brands. But, admittedly, I did make a few exceptions while traveling abroad in 2019. Figuring in the reduced shipping distance (most of Spain’s Zara garments are made in Morocco and Turkey) and timeless design, I ended up bringing back a Zara belt, jacket, dress, and shearling coat on two separate occasions. Have I worn the items? Yes, absolutely. But, let’s be honest—I know better.

Although they’re not coming from China or another country notorious for poor working conditions, there’s no way those garments were made by healthy, well-compensated Turks or Moroccans. Zara uses the same production model across its factories and buying from any store is supporting unethical practices. 

In trying to reevaluate why and where I shop in 2020, I’m cutting ties with all fast fashion brands and instead, exclusively buying from second-hand shops and ethical labels. The ‘no exceptions’ thing is going to be tough. But if I can’t say no to a piece of clothing, knowing all I do about its negative impacts and even though most of the time I can afford to find an alternative, well, let’s just say I’m not loving what that’s saying about me.  

Cutting back 

In tandem with my oath to not shop fast fashion, I’ll also be cutting back on how much I buy. My goal is to limit shopping to one or two indulgent/non-necessity (new or used) per month. This could be clothing, housewares, technology—anything I could really live without but want nonetheless. I’m hoping this change will help me to stick closely to my monthly shopping budget and consistently force me to take into account what I already own. 

No more guilty gifting

When it comes to gifting, there’s enormous pressure to buy, buy, buy. I’ve had so many experiences, both on the gifting and receiving side, where quality has been sacrificed for quantity. For my birthday this year, one of my friends didn’t know what I needed or wanted. Instead of guessing, she got me a gift card to a zero-waste store. It was perfect. I got exactly what I wanted and didn’t have any extra stuff I didn’t need lying around after. 

Whether it’s weddings, birthdays, or baby showers, I’m choosing to no longer give in to the social pressures and instead get people fewer, better quality items and/or experiences. 

Bye, bye subscription boxes 

Causebox, it’s been fun. I’ve loved trying all the new products and reading about the different brands. But after regifting up to half of each box, I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s just not worth it. The thing about subscription boxes is that they let you try products you wouldn’t otherwise try…which probably means you didn’t need them in the first place. I love putting on a new lotion as much as the next girl, but by making my own beauty items or buying locally, I discover new brands without using or spending more than I really need to. 

Slowing down 

Instant message. Fast food. Our culture grooms us to expect everything now, right now. The problem is, the more we speed, the less time we have to really think about what we’re doing and, more importantly, why. Just last week, I found myself on a RayBan bender. I flew through Poshmark for hours, looking for THE PERFECT PAIR. In the past (reads: even a month ago), I would have closed the deal then and there just to satisfy the hungry consumer in my head. But I just couldn’t justify it. I have perfectly fine sunglasses. I could hate the way the style looked on me and not be able to send them back. Was I feeding into brandom? Bottom line—there were just too many cons and not nearly enough pros. 

Instant gratification feels great in the moment. It’s a buzz…until it’s not. The limelight of new items seems to fade for me after just a few uses. So rather than jump at the first fish I see, this year, I’m making a concerted effort to stop. Think. Then buy. This new mindset allows time to try to find an item used or of even better quality before ever reaching for my credit card.

meet @dressedtosustain

If you were to walk down any given street in any given urban or suburban area, the chances are you could throw a rock and hit a Starbucks, H&M, and Bath & Body Works all in one shot. Thank god, right? After all, what would I do without my overpriced almond milk latte, the dress I’ll definitely only wear once, and that glittery bath gel I stock up on any chance I get?

All sarcasm aside, this is the reality of the 21st-century consumer experience—one I’m on the journey to distance myself from. I mean, we’ve all seen pictures of the Great Pacific garbage patch and I’m willing to bet you were one of the 33,485,492 people who watched that turtle get a straw pulled out of its nose. But beyond the environmental damage, there are other less visible costs at hand. For example, wealth in the US may be rising, but so are rates of depression and anxiety. And while I’m no psychologist, I’d be willing to bet that many people’s need to keep up with the Jones, so to speak, by having the latest iPhone, best job, and so on is at least a little bit to blame for our growing dissatisfaction.

So how do we counter this consumer rat race? My answer came in the form of conscious consumerism. The act of caring about where, how, and by who your products were made, staying away from brands who don’t share your values, and considering every purchase as an opportunity to financially support the companies who have dedicated themselves to social and environmental sustainability.

For me, sustainability was, and is, being a member of my family. There’s a picture hanging in our garage of my mom and dad, young and smiling in matching t-shirts at SolarFest—a true Vermont namesake—that stands as a constant reminder of where I come from. My dad, in particular, has made sustainability a non-negotiable part of our household, equipping our home with all kinds of energy-saving gadgets, solar panels, a garden, and even a make-shift shower timer when I was eight (I wish I were kidding, too). But because it was more or less forced on me, my reaction growing up wasn’t to dream of the day I’d own my own Prius or embrace a zero-waste lifestyle. No, instead I kind of went the other direction. To me, sustainability wasn’t even an afterthought. I didn’t think about the impact of the waste I created, where it all went, or what the long-term effects of my usage would be. To me, a disposal coffee cup was convenient, plastic cutlery was a no-brainer, and if you think I gave a second thought to buying anything from H&M or Forever 21, my friend, you are sorely mistaken.

What changed? Well, me. As I got older, I exposed myself to movies, like Food Inc., and spent more time considering the expansive and murky gap between me and the products I consumed. But none of this happened overnight. On the contrary, it’s taken me a very long time to get where I am and there’s still so much work to be done. Only recently did I make the choice to stay away from retailers like Zara and start bringing my own mesh produce bags to avoid using the plastic ones at grocery stores. But as I started taking these small steps, I came upon big realizationsLike, why do people put bananas in plastic bags? They literally have their own natural covering. And why are straws a given at most bars and restaurants when, for most people, they are by every stretch of the imagination completely unnecessary? And then came the very sobering reality: With the growth and development of the commercial market, the value of convenience has only continued to skyrocket. In fact, it’s so ingrained in us to reach for a plastic fork or jump at anything cheap or free that we don’t even stop to think, “Hey, wait a minute.” This isn’t by accident. The plastic market is predicted to be worth $654.38 billion dollars by 2020. And just like beauty, fashion, and other industries that have to work to create consumer demand and stay relevant, the easier and more prevalent these products become in our lives, the harder it becomes to remove the plastic spoon from our mouths.

 But I want to be clear—I say none of this to shame anyone. I myself used three single-use plastic cups a few nights ago while I was out at a bar. And god knows I’m still trying to tame the rabid consumer beast that surfaces whenever I step foot into a TJMaxx. No, instead, I want this blog to be a place where people come to take first-steps and make small, but important, realizations. I want to put helpful information in people’s hands and make the process of living a more sustainable lifestyle financially, practically, and aesthetically feasible. I hope that by eliminating some of the stigmas and barriers associated with sustainability, I can make the movement as a whole more accessible for more people. I want to make room for mistakes and varying definitions of what it means to be “green”. And most of all, I want to show readers how truly gratifying, and even fun, a sustainable lifestyle can be. God knows, there are so many incredible artists, companies, eateries, and people working to make sustainability just as common as convenience. And the work they do isn’t just good for the planet, its refreshing to see. It’s a new spin on a modern story whose ending we each play a critical role in. The question is, are you willing to take that first step?

– Alexis